A journey to the Arctic Circle feels like visiting another world, whether you’re experiencing the beauty of the ‘Midnight Sun’ in the summer months or the surreal magic of the winter ‘Northern Lights.’ These are just a couple of the many reasons why Arctic Circle cruises are becoming increasingly popular.
There is a lot more to an Arctic Circle tour than frozen landscapes and freezing temperatures. Wildlife abounds, ranging from polar bears to whales, and reindeers to seals. There are once-in-a-lifetime activities to enjoy too, like husky sledging or hot-air ballooning over icy scenes. Meet indigenous communities in isolated places and admire the untouched natural beauty of impossibly picturesque glaciers, fjords and lakes.
Many cruise companies have Arctic Circle itineraries departing from various ports in Scandinavia, Canada, Scotland, Greenland, Iceland and Russia, amongst others. There are more cruises available in the summer months; however, there are still many on offer for those wanting to visit in winter.
Popular cruise companies like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines depart to explore the Arctic from Copenhagen, Denmark. Common ports of call include Honningsvag and Tromso in the far north of Norway. Other journeys begin in the United Kingdom with Cunard sailing from Southampton and Fred Olsen departing from various ports in northern England and Scotland.
Some cruises depart from ports in the Arctic region, requiring flights to these distant locations. For example, Silversea takes visitors deep into the Arctic, leaving from Longyearbyen and Tromso, exploring the Svalbard Archipelago and Bear Island. Hurtigruten cruises explore the rugged northern coastlines of Norway and Greenland, frequently departing from Bergen, Norway.
Most cruises tend to depart from the larger ports, with well equipped with facilities including hotels and public transport networks. However, many ports of call are isolated communities with few amenities so communicate with your cruise coordinator about what you should bring with you and what to expect.
How to Get AroundThe Arctic Circle is best explored on a cruise as many locations are remote and difficult to access by air. Some expeditionary cruises are aimed at the more adventurous with ports of call requiring travellers to hike, so choose an itinerary appropriate to your fitness level.
- Currency – As there are many countries that have territories in the Arctic Circle region, you may need to have several different currencies depending upon which ports of call are in your cruise itinerary. For example, Norway uses the Norwegian Krone, Greenland and Denmark both use the Danish Krone, and Canada uses the Canadian dollar.
- Time Zone – Many different time zones exist across the Arctic Circle region, from Standard Time in Longyearbyen, Norway to Central Standard Time in Nunavut Territory, Canada. So check the local time for your next stop. It is important to remember that the number of daylight hours depends on what time of year you visit. The closer to the winter solstice, when the sun never shines, the shorter the day and the nearer to the summer solstice, when the sun doesn’t set, the longer the day.
- Weather – Temperatures differ depending on how far north of the Arctic Circle ports are situated. Generally, temperatures are below 0 degrees Celsius, although it can get slightly warmer in places like far northern Norway for the summer period, with the temperature creeping up to 3 to 7 degrees Celsius. In the winter months, temperatures can sink below -20 degrees Celsius.
- Northern Lights – The phenomenon of the northern lights is not one to be missed. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the magical spectacle of luminous colours exploding across the sky attracts visitors from across the globe. The northern lights are unpredictable, but are most frequent between the 21st of September and the 21st of March, especially between 6pm and 1am when it is dark. Although they can be seen all over Norway, the best locations for spotting Aurora Borealis are in the northern region of the country and the Svalbard Islands. The Utsjoki region of Finland is another top spot.
- Wrangel Island, Russia – If you want to make sure you see a polar bear on your Arctic journey, organise a cruise stop to Wrangel Island located off the coast of Chukota, a remote region in Russia’s northeast. You are virtually guaranteed a sighting of a polar bear on this island, or nearby Herald Island, as it is a popular breeding ground. Cruise companies such as Victory Cruises and Heritage Expeditions include it as a stop on their itinerary.
- Tromso, Norway – Known as the ‘capital of the Arctic’, this lively city has a fascinating history and interesting architecture. Explore its arctic aquarium to see arctic marine life up close, or wander its streets on a long summer evening for a night you won’t forget.